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EPA leader touts electric school buses in visit to Vienna elementary school

Flint Hill Elementary School students let their green flag fly during a visit yesterday (Monday) from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan.

Invited by the environmental advocacy groups Mothers Out Front and Moms Clean Air Force, Regan stopped by the Vienna school to discuss the federal government’s plans to expand the use of electric school buses over diesel ones, a transition that he said Fairfax County Public Schools is helping lead.

“Fairfax County Public Schools is demonstrating exceptional leadership in being an early participant in what we hope will be a widespread, nationwide movement,” Regan said at a press conference, which followed a bus ride and a student roundtable. “Zero-emission school buses can and one day will be the American standard.”

FCPS received its first electricity-powered school bus in January 2021 and now has eight total in its fleet of 1,625 buses. The district was awarded a $2.7 million state grant in August to add another 10 electric buses.

At the time of the announcement, the new buses were expected to arrive this March, but FCPS says they are now scheduled to come off the assembly line around June 25 in time for delivery in July.

“The supplier has some additional upfitting to do before delivery to align with our specifications,” FCPS said by email. “They will not be placed into full operation (with students aboard) until Fall of 2022.”

Superintendent Scott Brabrand reaffirmed yesterday that the school system aims to achieve carbon neutrality with its bus fleet by 2035.

The EPA announced $17 million in rebates on March 7 to help schools across the country transition to electric buses. That includes $7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds intended for underserved communities that might not be able to afford electric vehicles and charging equipment on their own.

Congress committed an additional $5 billion over the next five years to replacing diesel buses with vehicles that emit lower or no greenhouse gas emissions with its passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure law in November. The EPA anticipates announcing a first round of funding next month, according to Regan.

“This investment will transform how millions of students get to school each and every day. It will help clean the air we breathe, protect public health, and tackle the climate crisis,” Regan said, stating that the recent surge in gas prices stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine further highlights the need to transition from fossil fuels to clean, more sustainable energy sources.

While the event focused on electric school buses, FCPS officials and students used the occasion to also put a spotlight on the district’s Get2Green program, which promotes environmental stewardship and education.

Flint Hill Elementary has embraced the program enthusiastically, obtaining its first Green Flag award from the National Wildlife Federation in May 2014 and becoming a permanent Green Flag school in 2019.

Students on the school’s Green Team have helped implement projects from a composting program to flower seed collections and distributions. They partnered with Bryn Awel Primary School in Wales to learn about plastic pollution in oceans and gather data for NASA’s Globe program.

Fifth-grade student Eddie Felber attributed his appreciation for the natural world to Flint Hill’s courtyard, which features a chicken coop, a monarch waystation, and native plant and vegetable gardens. Tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, and other produce from the gardens are used in the school’s cafeteria salad bar.

“We will not stop, because we cannot afford to stop,” sixth-grade student Lena Mudrick said. “We’re the kids now, but we have to make sure to improve the environment for future generations. Our school is incredible in helping student-led projects make change, and we hope more schools will have these opportunities.”

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